Bark beetles have no bite

Late last fall there were many winter predictions. Some forecast models were predicting harsh frigid conditions with ample amounts of snow for northern Ohio. Folklore was predicting the same based on the wooly-banded caterpillar.

As the cost of our heating utilities were increasing, some homeowners turned to burning firewood as either their primary heat source or as an added ambiance during freezing weather.

With the onset of winter, homeowners gathered firewood and created storage for the wood either next to their homes, inside garages, basements and other cold storage areas inside the home. As winter closed in, the weather was not anything like the predictions forecasted. Mild, like late fall, weather persisted through much of the winter, and instead of snow, we got rain. This left some homes with unburned stockpiles of firewood stored inside the home.

The onset of spring brought increasing daylight and other factors which began the emergence of what is coined as adult firewood insects that start emerging from the stored firewood. One of the first insects to arrive on the scene are Bark beetles. Bark beetles in the family Curculionidae are tiny beetles ranging in color from brown to black and measuring around one-eighth inch long with some slightly larger, and some smaller. Most are cylindrical-shaped, but some are a bit more robust.

Unfortunately, these Bark beetles resemble closely Cigarette beetles, and Drugstore beetles or Biscuit beetles both in the family Ptinidae. Cigarette beetles and Drugstore beetles are common pantry pests that feed and reproduce in a wide range of dried plant products.

It is understandable for a homeowner to be concerned about pantry pests. It can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to eliminate this infestation. Management involves tracking down and destroying the point source and then examining a wide range of products throughout a home, including inside an attached garage to determine how far the infestation has spread. After eliminating the sources, it is good management practice to store open pantry products in resealable containers.

Bark beetles on the other hand are short-lived nuisance pests. When there is nothing for them to eat, Bark beetles focus their attention on stressed, dying, or dead trees including firewood.

The next firewood beetles to appear are much larger than the Bark beetles. They are in my opinion very colorful and fascinating; however, to most homeowners, they are disgusting and must be disposed of immediately, normally by squashing! These beetles are the painted hickory borer and the banded ash wing borer. Both these borers are found in firewood that is comprised of ash, black locust, hackberry, hickory, honey locust, oak, Osage orange, walnut, butternut and, occasionally, maple.

These big beetles, as well as the much smaller Bark beetles present no risk to wood furniture, flooring, paneling or other processed wood in homes, or wood used in home construction.

But like all things in our natural environment, there are caveats or law breakers to this rule of being only nuisance pests. These include Carpenter Ants Camponotus spp., and Eastern Subterranean Termites in the family Blattodea.

Although it is highly unlikely for firewood stored inside a home to give rise to an indoor carpenter ant infestation, and it is impossible for termite workers to establish a new colony without a queen, finding them emerging from firewood should trigger further investigation. Firewood stored outside near the home should be inspected for Carpenter ants and termites if the firewood is positioned right next to a home.

The take-home message is to not store firewood inside a home. Store it outside, and only bring small quantities inside the home as needed. Long-term storage of firewood should be stockpiled and stacked a distance away from a home. An ounce of prevention is better than a home infested with firewood insects.